Choosing That Which is Better

Written on: May 31, 2021

Article by: Walter Hart

Jesus’ ministry was a busy time for him. The crowds were often great. There were always people wanting to see him. And it seems that after a while that wherever he went, there were those present who wanted to trap him in some fault — to find some basis for criticizing and dishonouring Him. With such circumstances, it was difficult to relax and ever feel really “at home.”

 There was one place, however, where Jesus seemed to be able to relax, to be at home and simply to enjoy the companionship of like minds. This was in the village of Bethany, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, less than two miles from Jerusalem. Here was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus -- a place of loving hospitality, calm waters in stormy seas, a haven in troubled times. It was here that Jesus spent the nights of the last week of His earthly life, walking back and forth to Jerusalem each day to teach.

But for our consideration today we are drawn to another time that Jesus visited Bethany, a time when there was a conflict between the two sisters, and to the resulting comment that Jesus made. This incident contains a lesson so needed in our day that we need to return and consider it periodically.

Luke 10:38-42a

Jesus visits Mary and Martha. “Martha welcomed him into her home” (38) — “opened her home to him (NIV). Martha seems to have been properly the mistress of the house. She was a hospitable woman and through this gift she was a blessing in Jesus’ life. Her willingness to open her home, to have guests, to show love in this way, must have meant much not only to Jesus but also to others.

“Mary...sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying” (39). It was the posture of learners at the time to sit at the feet of their teacher. Mary seems to have been a thoughtful, reflective person, prone to take time away from the hustle and bustle to think, just to visit and enjoy the company.  Martha, on the other hand, seems to have been one of those people who always tend to be busy with her hands, and on her feet.

These personality traits are still very much evident in our world. Neither is bad, but both need to be careful of extremes. People like Mary have a tendency sometimes to not be as zealous about looking after things physical as they should be, neglecting physical tasks in favour of a book, a walk, or some reflection. People like Martha can get so wound up in activity that they fail to take the needed time to read, to think, to pray, and just to enjoy being with others. And, as this incident shows, these two types of people must take care to avoid unnecessary clashes!

In this case, “Martha was distracted by her many tasks...”(40). “Distracted” = “drawn in many directions” (Ash). “by her many tasks” — “by all the preparations that had to be made” (NIV). We all know what Martha was doing. She was preparing an elaborate meal. She was showing her love for Jesus by putting on a real spread.
So “she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me’’(40). In Martha’s frenzy of preparation, and perhaps in her frustration at something not going right, she complains to Jesus about Mary, and brings Jesus into the conflict between the sisters. In her self-pity her words are sharp. She rebukes Jesus and Mary, and she destroys the very purpose of Jesus’ visit (relaxation and friendship).

Jesus replied (41,42). “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things...(“You are fretting and fussing about so many things” NEB)...”there is need of only one thing” — or, in some manuscripts: “few things are necessary, or only one.” Jesus would have been pleased with a simpler meal and less conflict and complaining. | am sure Jesus enjoyed food and would appreciate what would be served, but the thing He really needed and appreciated was the quiet companionship of like minds. The meal was of lesser importance.

“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Some things are good, but others are better. Large meals are good, and some food is necessary, but it must always be remembered that the physical is less important than the spiritual. It would be better to have a simpler meal, with time for sharing and teaching, than an elaborate meal with no time for spiritual matters.

There are, of course, some lessons in this incident for today. For one thing, Martha’s problem is all too familiar to us. How many of us often seem to be “worried and distracted by many things”? How much “fretting and fussing” seem to be going on? Why is this? Is it necessary? Look at Martha. What led to her frustrations? Who told her that so much had to be done? Who set her work schedule? Who got her in this “wound up” state, anyway? You know the answer! Wasn't it really her own fault and no one else’s? Isn’t that the way it usually is with us? When we get “up tight”, frustrated, overwhelmed, shouldn’t we first of all take a look at ourselves — our goals, priorities, our control of our lives — before we start blaming other people?

If we aren’t careful we may find ourselves doing what the chickens did after my mother wrung their necks — threshing and flailing, feathers and blood and dust flying, no head, no thought, no direction. We don’t want to find ourselves flailing about in a frenzy of activity that is no more meaningful or hopeful than that of a chicken with its head wrung off! So couples grow apart, marriages disintegrate, as husband and wife rush about in a frenzy of different directions and the children grow up without proper parental attention, the parents too busy providing “many things” to spend time with them, or when they are together the parents are anxious and troubled about many things and certainly no joy to be with. | wonder how often it would be better that there be “a few things” or “one thing” and more togetherness with less “foam and fury”!

We need to continually remind ourselves that some things are more important than others. There were two things (two good things) at Bethany that day — physical food and the opportunity for spiritual and emotional develop and the cultivation of friendship. Mary chose -she made a deliberate choice—and Jesus affirmed that she had chosen “the better part.”

We need to take stock of our priorities, to take time to think, to study, to mediates, to ask ourselves questions about life, and to consider the relationships with those near to us. Where are we headed as an individual, as a family? Why are we doing what we are doing? What things, what activities, are involved in your life? In your family’s life? List them. Now rank them in importance. How do your priorities stack up? Are you being true to those values you know are the highest — the most important.

Beware — the immediate, the urgent, will tend to push out the important! Jesus warned of the danger of missing the really important matters of life — “What good will it do a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26)

When our life seems overcrowded, or when we are confused as to which way to go — the one thing we want to grasp firmly, the one thing it is essential to hold onto, is our relationship with God, our relationship with God’s people, our devotion to worship and Bible study and Christian fellowship. Sadly, many people seem to drop these things first — yet these are the very things that will help us keep our priorities straight and make the right decisions as to the way to go. We must not make the mistake of considering the financial, the career, the material, and the physical, but neglecting “the better part” — the moral and spiritual and relational.

May the Lord help us, as we check our priorities and seek to put direction and purpose in our lives, to, like Mary, choose that which is better — that which is best! 

Weyburn, Sask.